Hilary’s story

On 31st August 2009 Hilary Lister became the first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain. She was only able to move her head and sails using three straws to control the boat.

Hilary Lister was a British record-breaking quadriplegic sailor. She suffered from the progressive condition reflex sympathetic dystrophy and controlled her ship by using sip-and-puff technology for steering and sails.

Hilary was able-bodied until the age of 15. She studied biochemistry at Jesus College, Oxford, between 1991 and 1995, having lost the use of her legs by then. She started a PhD at the University of Kent in 1996 but her condition deteriorated. She lost the use of her arms in 1999, was unable to finish her doctorate, but was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. She was introduced to sailing in 2003, which she says gave her life “new meaning and purpose”.

On 23 August 2005, Hilarywas the first quadriplegic to sail solo across the English Channel (in 6 hours and 13 minutes). On 24 July 2007, she became the first female quadriplegic to sail solo around the Isle of Wight (in 11 hours 4 minutes).

She won the Sunday Times Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration in 2005. She set off to sail solo around Great Britain on 16 June 2008.[2] Bad weather and technical problems forced her to suspend the attempt on 13 August 2008.[3]

On 21 May 2009, Hilary Lister resumed her attempt from Plymouth. By 14 August she had reached Bridlington, Yorkshire on the east coast. She reached the end of her journey, Dover in Kent, on the evening of 31 August 2009, becoming the first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain.

On 8 January 2010, at the Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show,  she announced her intention to compete in the 2011 Fastnet Race in a Class 40 boat. In April 2010, she sailed around the Kingdom of Bahrain in support of Bahrain Mobility International.

Hilary Lister died on the 18th August 2018. She was 46.